Retro Racing: TT 2012 – A year without a Senior
Racing Retro: During the Coronavirus shutdown of motorcycle Racing Lowdown will bring you some retro pieces. This post looks back to the 2012 Isle of Man TT and a year that was dominated by close finishes.
May 2012 it was announced that the Manx Grand Prix would run as the Manx Classic for the following year. Three races would be for historic machinery along with two for modern racers looking to get experience on the mountain course.
Northwest 200: Can Seeley win the clean sweep?
Pressure. That’s what Alastair Seeley was feeling as he prepared for the Northwest 200. The TAS Suzuki rider has firmly established himself as the man to beat on the coast roads and this is the race where he makes people stand up and take notice of him.
Pressure to perform. Pressure to live up to the hype. Pressure to keep getting good rides in the British championship on the back of his Northwest 200 success. The reigning British Supersport champion was now racing a Superbike full-time in BSB and lined up as the pre-race favourite. Practice and qualifying did little to dissuade the masses about what to expect. Seeley was flying from the opening practice sessions and with a new sponsor, Tyco, the TAS squad were ready to roll for their 2012 Road Racing campaign. Could Seeley win all six races? It was definitely possible and he’d start as the favourite for each of them.
The opening race of the week, Thursday’s Superstock race, saw Seeley miss out on the start with John McGuinness grabbing an early lead. It was short lived with the Wee Wizard building into the race on a drying track. One race, one win. Could he keep the run going in his next race? A winning margin of 22s from Lee Johnston and Cameron Donald certainly showed how strong the TAS Suzuki package was.
We didn’t have to wait long to find out the answer. No, Seeley wouldn’t clean sweep the week because a red flag brought a halt to racing after only one lap. William Dunlop took his first four-stroke win at the Northwest in the opening Supersport race. Seeley was second and closing in fast at the time of the red flag. The dream was over but there was still plenty of racing left for Seeley. A mistake in the opening Superbike saw Seeley lose time by overshooting at Church. He charged through from tenth but ended up four seconds adrift at the flag. A win and two seconds is a solid Northwest for most but not for Seeley.
Pressure. It was building now for Seeley. Could he win again? Had he cracked under pressure? Saturday’s Superstock race was crucial and he needed to show resilience. He did just that to beat the pack to the line and hold off James Hillier. Unfortunately for Seeley the corrected time would give Michael Rutter the win.
John McGuinness The man to beat. Having got back to winning ways in 2011 the 17 times winner was out to edge closer to Joey Dunlop’s 26 win record
Cameron Donald Always a contender the Australian was now in the midst of retirement rumours. Two podiums and a very competitive NW200 had left him well placed for TT 2012
William Dunlop Fresh from winning the Supersport race at the Northwest 200 William was ready to shine on the Wilson Craig Honda 600cc machine but an ankle injury was hampering him
Michael Dunlop The Northwest had been a disaster for Dunlop. The workload of being a privateer was finally starting to become too much and he went to the TT in a whirlwind. A last time
Bruce Anstey Who wants to rule out the Kiwi? His move to Padgetts the previous year had given him plenty of motivation and success in the Supersport class. Could he back it up?
Guy Martin The Tyco Suzuki man had a big crash at the Northwest 200 and battered, bruised and facing a daunting task. The speed was there but would he have the fitness?
Conor Cummins Injured his wrist in a clash with Gary Johnson during the final Superbike race of the Northwest 200. It ruined his TT
The Blade had set off in the second wave after qualifying down the field. He set a lap record for the class, and the first ever 120mph ‘stock lap, to take the win. It took even Rutter by surprise. It was a stunning ride and the Kawasaki rider to claimed his 13th win at the NW200 and equal Joey Dunlop’s win total. The next target is 15 and equalling Robert’s record at the event.
The pressure was now building, building, building. Seeley had three second places and the clock was ticking on his chances of adding another race win. The Supersport race was next on the billing and having claimed the British championship last year he was ready to right the wrongs of the red flagged race won by Dunlop.
A daring move into Church, where he had made his mistake and handed the Superbike victory to McGuinness, saw Seeley take the lead from William Dunlop. It was a contentious move but one that afterwards team manager Hector Neill said, “That’s Supersport racing. Last year in the British Championship it was like that at every corner.” Seeley was now ready for the final race of the week.
The second Superbike race saw Seeley, McGuinness and Rutter fight it out at the front. It was the Ulsterman that took the win. Three wins and three second place finishes. Not a bad Northwest 200 but now the focus was on the rest of the field as they got ready to head across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man.
Was the island set for a classic?
TT 2012 certainly had the hall marks of a potential classic and it certainly was memorable with the Senior TT cancelled for the first time in history.
There were plenty of storylines ahead of practice weekend with Ian Hutchinson topping the bill. The Yamaha rider was fit again and ready to race at the TT for the first time since his five in a week success of 2010. The contenders were now joined by young riders gaining experience such as William Dunlop. Gary Johnson had moved to Padgetts and with better machinery than the past he’s a threat to add to his win tally. Michael Dunlop continues to operate as a maverick and run as a privateer. This year he has bikes from three different manufacturers. The usual contenders are all back too.
A big Northwest 200 crash had left Guy Martin battered, bruised and bent out of shape. The Tyco Suzuki man was worse for wear as practice week got underway and he sought his first TT win. His fortunes didn’t improve on the island with a crash at Billown while trying to “loosen himself up.” His teammate, Conor Cummins, was even worse. A crash with Gary Johnson at the Northwest had left him with fractured fingers and a damaged hand. Camderon Donald was subdued throughout practice week but that was mostly because he was focused on the goal at the hand in what was rumoured to be his last TT.
Practice week began with McGuinness shocking everyone with a 128mph lap straight away. It was a stunning achievement and one that would lay down a marker and make the TT Legend’s rider the pre-race favourite in the big bike classes. On Wednesday he would break the 130mph barrier before rolling it for the rest of the week to keep his powder dry for the races.
Anstey and Donald were fast in practice too but it was Simon Andrews that stole the show. The Honda man, teammate to McGuinness, was in stunning form to set the fourth fastest time in the . This was less than a year after doctors had considered amputating his leg after a short circuit crash. A year ago he become the second faster newcomer in history but already he was out to make some history. Andrews time was as fast as he had gone twelve months earlier and boded well for the rest of the festival.
The struggle bus was making its way around the Mountain Course with some top tier talent hitching a ride. Hutchinson was struggling with the Yamaha R1, Gary Johnson was struggling with the Dunlop tyres on his Padgetts Honda and Michael Dunlop was struggling on his big bikes. Dunlop had thrown his Northwest 200 Suzuki Supersport machine in the scrap heap and switched to a Yamaha and was fast on the 600cc machine.
Practice week was a battle between McGuinness and Donald. Each trying to one-up the other. Donald was typically the first to set a mark but McGuinness would immediately answer any questions and raise the bar. Heading into the opening race of TT 2012 it was finely poised between them.
Superbike: McGuinness starts race week in style
Who’s your money going on? It’d be a brave gambler to put their money on the table for the Superbike race. McGuinness and Donald started as the clear favourites after practice with McGuinness setting a 130mph lap and Donald a 129 on his Wilson Craig Honda. Anstey was second fastest in practice, Guy Martin looked to be finding form and Rutter looked consistent but probably not outright fast enough. James Hillier looked strong and could be a podium contender while Michael Dunlop and Gary Johnson all had reasons to think their fortunes could shift. Six laps of the near 38 miles Mountain Course equates out to 226 miles of racing. It’s a fools game to do anything other than expect the unexpected.
Great work in the pits by his TT Legends Honda crew and a consistent pace were enough for John McGuinness to wrap up TT win number 18. He took an early lead from Donald and proceeded to stretch it out bit by bit to win by 14s from the Australian with Anstey standing on the rostrum.
“I never know what to say after winning around here,” said McGuinness. “I was starting at Number 1 and that means it’s just you, the track and the clock. I started out steady and then built up my pace and raced to the pitboard. Cameron was strong at the start but we had two good pitstops and I really focused on my outlaps to be strong.”
While one Honda man was out in front his teammate was laid out in hospital. A heavy crash for Simon Andrews on Lap 1 left him with a fractured shoulder and facing more time on the sidelines once.
After the race Donald, who led at the end of the opening lap, held his hands up and admitted he couldn’t have done any more.
“I’m proud to finish second and wanted to push John more,” said the Australian. “It was close early on but then he opened a gap and from then it was about riding smart and safe.”
Supersport 1: Bruce Almighty
Fresh from his 23rd TT podium Bruce Anstey was more motivated than ever to win on the Supersport bike. After last year’s red flagged success he wanted to get the job done in 2012. Anstey didn’t start off as the favourite because in practice it had been the Dunlop brothers setting the pace but William admitted it’d be hard for him to be consistent for four laps.
From the outset this was Michael Dunlop’s race. He led on the opening lap, smashed the lap record on Lap 2 and was over 20s clear of the field. Gary Johnson was second with William third at the half way stage. Michael, winner of Supersport 2 a year ago, was flying. Suddenly however he went missing on the timing screens! A blown engine had ruled him out from what had seemed a sure fire victory.
Johnson was leading but the man on the move was Anstey. The Padgetts rider had started slowly but was coming like a train. On the final lap he took the lead at Ballaugh and a 126mph lap was enough to clinch a ninth TT victory.
“That was the toughest TT,” admitted Anstey afterwards. “I ran out of fuel at the end and wasn’t sure I’d made it! I can’t believe we wont because I was getting P5 and P6 on the boards at the start. I started to push and the gaps were coming down but I didn’t expect to win!”
Anstey wasn’t the only rider with fuel issues. Johnson, who was leading on the final lap, ran out of fuel and had to push his bike home. At the flag Donald was 0.93s adrift and having finished second to McGuinness in the Superbike race it was a bitter pill to swallow.
“There’s thousands of corners in a race here,” reflected Donald. “There’s a pitstop. Seven tenths of a second…it’s the closest TT finish I’ve ever had.”
William Dunlop had set the pace in practice and was rewarded with his first TT podium.
Superstock: McGuinness finally wins on a ‘stocker
After winning the Superbike race McGuinness was out to finally right one of the anomalies of his career; winning a Superstock TT. He’d never won on a big production bike prior to 2012 and for this win he earned it the hard way.
“I’ve won all sorts of races around here,” said McGuinness afterwards. “This is my first Superstock win and I’m thrilled because it was hard to win. I was getting ‘+0’ on my board, nearly ran out of fuel and had to dig in. I was up for the fight but this one was tough. This is the bike I ride in the British championship so I knew it’d be a great chance to win the Superstock race.”
The challenge was coming from the very start with Ryan Farquhar fast from the outset and just a tenth of a second separating them after the opening 37.75 miles of action. Guy Martin was third but only five seconds adrift. At the end of the second lap, with riders in the pits, the gap at the front had stretched to four seconds and eventually eight seconds at the flag.
Supersport 2: Dominant Dunlop bounces back
After being robbed of success in the opening Supersport race Michael Dunlop returned to the startline motivated. He was ready to get back to winning and he was doing it with the help of the Swann Yamaha squad. Pete Jennings used two engines-Dunlop’s blown motor and a discarded engine from Hutchy-to rebuild the R6. It wasn’t ideal but it got the job done.
At the start it was William that led the way from Michael but the Wilson Craig bike expired halfway around the opening tour and Michael was now in charge. He would win by over ten seconds and claim his third career victory on the Mountain Course.
“I can’t believe it after all the problems during the week,” said Dunlop. “I can’t thank the guys enough for all their work and help. When I got ‘+5’ on my pitboard said it was time to really push and show everone how I operate. I took it easy over the Mountain though because I wasn’t going to blow her up again!”
Second place went, once again, to Donald. “I gave it my all but that’s three second place finishes this week. I’m proud of that and enjoying my week. It’s been a magnificent TT with great weather and the sun out all over the Mountain for a big crowd.”
The final spot on the podium went to Ryan Farquhar by just 0.01s from Anstey.
Senior TT: Answer to a pub quiz
For the first time in 105 years the Senior TT was cancelled. Bad weather forced a 24 hours delay and ultimately the cancellation.
“Obviously I wanted to race,” said Superbike and Superstock winner McGuinness. “I was up for it today because I wanted to take the Senior trophy home. But it was too sketchy. Lightly cut slicks on a superbike? You’ve no chance.”
The other riders agreed and 2012 became a year to remember for answers at a table quiz.
Lightweight: 1-2-3 for Farquhar
While the Senior TT couldn’t run in the soaking wet conditions the Lightweight class was able to offer fans something to watch. The race was run on Saturday evening and conditions were still far from ideal even for the 650cc machines. Ryan Farquhar ran away with the race win but he was under pressure in the early stages from James Hillier.
Farquhar would eventually win by almost 30s from Hillier and afterwards his joy was clear, “I’ve spent four years promoting this class and building bikes for it. It was a 1-2-3 for my bikes ad that’s great. We did a 115mph lap but there’ s a lot more potential than that.”
Picture Credits: Tony Goldsmith, Kevin Clague, Stephen McClements